Warehoming Supply Services Inc.

Cousin Marc gave me his best performance of a solemn nod. An exaggerated pout pulled at his jowls to sell the bit. “So sorry, again. So sorry, Twon” he said. He looked to Liro whom gripped the hem of my pants, but even he couldn’t make up something comforting to say to someone so young. He turned and made his way out into the searing late afternoon sun, with a go bag from the buffet tucked under his arm.

That meant only Uncle Terry remained. His family had already retreated to their car.

The stout man shuffled over and took a moment to pinch his lips at me to make sure I recognized the heavy weight of his gaze. “Twon,” he said. “I can’t imagine how you feel right now.”

I nodded. Uncle Terry had seemed pleasant the few times we’d met, but I’d run out of courtesy to give hours ago.

He cleared his throat and started again. “But you’re not alone, okay? Liro looks up to you, but he needs a lot of care and acting as his parent is a whole new ball game.”

Liro’s hand snaked into my own, and I looked down. Red rings circled the skin around his eyes and he wavered even as he held on to my leg. His flare up had started the day after the accident.

I snapped my tongue. “I’m not replacing our parents.”

Terry grunted and ran a hand over his hair. “Yeah, of course. I know that. All I’m saying is that we want to help if it gets hard. If you need anything. Really, even if you need a place to stay.”

My breath caught in my throat. What? Ma and Pa’s collection of vis panes flickered out back and caught my gaze. I’d powered it up before the reception. The cloudy panes stood in an uneven line, rigged in an approximation of a wall. The kaleidoscope of shifting colors danced across the face of each one, never quite matching with the image on the neighbor. Ma and Pa were part of the first wave of street artists who changed the game by hacking digital-marketing vis panes that covered buildings. My heart knew that if I watched that display a little longer, I’d see dad trudge out from the shed with a digipen. He’d pull at the hem of whichever light brown or leafy green tank top he wore and use it to mop the sweat from his brow.

My heart lied. No one would ever finish the tag out back. It was mine now. I looked down to Liro, his hand in mine. Ours.

“We’re not leaving,” I told Uncle Terry.

I tried to tally up the damage, but I lost my breath before I could finish. Water still dripped from the open window. It sloshed around my ankles as I maneuvered around shelves and stacks of boxes that hadn’t fallen. At least half of the boxes had darkened from the summer-sky blue of Warehoming Inc.’s brand colors to a deep navy blue at being sodden. I turned away from Ma and Pa’s vis pane display out back and chewed at my lip. A bead of sweat slid down my cheek. Our clothes were damp and sticky from more than just a little flooding. It was hot as a state officer’s glare, and air conditioning was as much a myth to Liro and me as the pursuit of happiness.

Liro scratched at his short-cropped hair. “How bad is it?” His voice cracked when he asked.

I found myself blinking stinging sweat from my eyes. “The window.” It was all I could say.

“The latch must have come loose,” he said. “I closed the damn thing. I swear I did.”

My untended bush of curly hair snagged my fingers as I pulled them through. I didn’t have the energy to admonish Liro for cussing again. Many of these boxes contained books or random consumer goods like dog food or hygiene products. We’d just received computer components from PC Parts Supply though, and some of those were big ticket items. I’d have to check the logs. The shipment contained sticks of RAM and keyboards, but we’d also received at least a handful of GPUs, processors and motherboards. The Warehoming loss department would notice.

“It’s okay.” I said it through gritted teeth to keep my voice from breaking. “We’ll need to clean up everything we can. We have enough spare cardboard to re-box everything that’s salvageable. We’ll need to save what we can, and then we’ll file a claim on the rest.”

His voice was as small as the day Ma and Pa died. “What will happen?”

I gulped down the tremor that threatened my voice. “An inspector will come. We’ll need to clean up everything.

Liro smacked a hand to his face dramatically. “Oh, Bondye.”

“It’s okay. We just need to get to work.”

“Will we lose the house?”

I knew his real question. Will we lose the memories?

I’d dropped out of University and got a job waiting tables the day after the funeral almost three years ago. Academic scholarships couldn’t pay for Liro’s medications after all. I got a second job working carts two months later. Then I lost the waiting job. I took Liro to urgent care twice in a week during a flare up, and that made me unreliable. I lost the cart job not long after when Liro’s appointments made my employment too cumbersome to continue. The laundry machine broke maybe six week later. With every storm, the stain on the ceiling of the sitting room grew just as the stain on my mood.

At one point, I’d skipped so many meals that my stomach twisted to heave dry coughs into an unimpressed toilet. I looked into Warehoming Supply Services Inc. as soon as Liro went to sleep that night. I refused to sell the house, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t leverage its value for a return. The house wasn’t in a condition to use as a BNB rental, but we could rent the space out for eCommerce logistics. I’d signed us up before he woke that day. As my own boss, I might be able to make enough money to support Liro. Companies like Warehoming promised next-hour delivery for ninety percent of their eCommerce partners’ deliveries. It was good for the consumer. It was good for the reputation of the company that sold the products, and it was good for Warehoming to take a cut. They also accepted new freelance storage vendors with markedly few hoops, so it was good for people desperate enough to leverage their home as an asset. Like Liro and me.

Inventory from countless eCommerce businesses using Warehoming as their distributor filled up the house by the end of the month. It took up the living room and the sitting room. Boxes filled the hallways, and all three bedrooms. Liro and I tucked ourselves into a tiny corner of the master bedroom on a mattress of pillows stacked atop each other. We gave the whole house to Warehoming except for that one corner and our parents’ vis tag out back. We weren’t losing that.

My lip curled when I answered him. “No way in hell.”

I bent my whole body into wringing the towel. Water splattered at my feet and ran down my arms in rivulets. I sighed and hung the rag over a rod in the sunlight. My shoes squelched as I tromped back into the living room from the back door. We’d removed all the boxes yesterday, leaving those that were salvageable outside and sending Liro upstairs with the rest to repackage. I’d then dried one half of the carpet. Fans roared on either side of the room still, but getting that much water out of a room didn’t happen quickly. With the second half as dry as I could get it today, I could start moving boxes back into the side I’d dried yesterday.

The doorbell sounded, and Liro called out from upstairs that he had it. Must have been a delivery driver, then. The deliverers were good people mostly, gig workers leveraging a different asset for a wheezing gasp of income. Liro met as many of them as possible. He was still cute, and the drivers took a liking to a child with a hitched step who used their dialectical profanity right back at them—despite my efforts. It kept our ratings up. Liro would have called to me if it was an inventory van. The inventory drivers didn’t care if a gap-toothed smile greeted them all the way below the long noses they looked down. They were salary folk. They just wanted fast.

I grabbed the dolly and slid it underneath a stack of three boxes and wheeled it into the living room. My forearms ached as I set it down, and I tugged at it weakly when they were stable.

The sound of ripping stopped me cold.

I clenched my eyes shut for a moment. I could keep Liro in this house if God said the same, but I didn’t know if I could deal with another emergency.

I bent to investigate and found a twirled cream thread of the carpet twisted around the dolly’s axel. A long straight run sliced through the carpet and marked it the same as the rest of the house, the same as Liro and me: starting to fall apart.

My legs didn’t much care for work at that moment. So, I plopped down the carpet, and a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding whistled through my teeth.

I scanned the rest of the room and noticed other runs, maybe a dozen of them. One stretched almost the full width of the room. My fingers found the carpet and traced through the machined waves of fabric, and that feeling wove with history.

The way it peeled around my fingers. I remembered gentle press of it against my cheek. We used to watch movies down here. Ma and Pa called them camping trips. They would push the couch back and make a tent of blankets and chairs, and we’d all squeeze in and watch a comedy movie, or a superhero flick. Never a rom com. One time Pa paused the movie for a third time in the first ten minutes to ask some question or make some comment and Ma practically leapt over Liro and me to wrestle the remote from his grip. The tent toppled over us, and by the time Ma had control of the remote the blankets were twisted all about her legs. She tripped while trying to stand up and dad caught her with hooting laugh. Even after the tent came down, we’d—

My wrist pane pinged. I flinched in surprise, pulling my hand from the carpet. Warehoming had responded to our claim. An inspector would arrive in two days, with a corporate bottom line on their mind. A shudder threatened at my back, but I suppressed it and nodded to myself, to the empty room, and to the memories that whispered in the walls. We could do this. Caulking next.

Liro pulled the blanket to his chin and sucked a breath through a wince. After a moment he relaxed and the bed of lumped pillows billowed around his head. He gave a weak smile. “Are we ready?”

A million other tasks and chores bloomed to the front of my mind. We’d only had time to bleach the ceiling stains in the two main floors, and not the basement. I was sure that there was a ninth mouse trap that we’d not found still lurking in some corner. If the inspector found that with a mouse on it, we’d lose our certifications for all food stuffs that weren’t canned. There was a section of the upstairs guest room where the floor noticeably dipped that I never found a way to cover without making it obvious.

“As much as we can be.” I patted his cheek. “We’ll be alright.”

Liro nodded, his front teeth sticking out beneath his lip. How could he be so damn somber at his age? Industrial shelving units and stacks of boxes towered around us, with only the smallest path to the door, and they made him seem smaller than he was as he hunkered into his pillows. When was the last time he’d ran and shouted with joy? When was the last time he’d engaged with dragons or revolutionaries of his imagination?

My brother took a long breath and looked away. “Do you think I could take a tablet of the baclofen? All the work the last couple of days is doing a damn spell on my back. It would help me sleep. Then I could be ready in case the inspector asks me any questions.”

I took a breath and grimaced. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea. We don’t know how the inspection will affect our budgets beyond the initial fee to recoup inventory. I just want to be careful.”

His chin trembled. “I won’t be able to sleep, wey.

My heart tightened. Everything tightened. The blood in my veins began to roar as the pressure rose.

“I know, Liro. I’m trying, okay? Just give me this one day to figure things out.”

Liro scoffed and turned away. I couldn’t blame him. I would not have maintained his positivity if I’d had to manage chronic pain and living in this squalor when I was seven.

His shoulders started to curl in fits as his body suppressed sobs. I sighed and rested a hand on his shoulder. I sat with him, and his shoulders eventually stilled, but he did not fall asleep. Maybe he wanted me to believe he did, but the stiffness in his neck, and the flaring of his little jaw muscles betrayed him.

What could I do to make him forgive me? Probably nothing that night. Our situation required hard decisions. I’d hunkered over our bank statements and puzzled ways to stretch our budget, deciding where we would need to cut it short countless times since Ma and Pa had died. I had grown four inches, and yet gained only five pounds. I knew how to make these decisions, and I knew how to protect Liro from the worst of them. This time was different. This time the stakes could take our livelihood as sure as legalized asset forfeiture.

On the other side of our bedding corner, Ma’s little vis prototype sat on the sole nightstand. She’d taken a full-size pane and cut it into pieces that couldn’t have been larger than ten-inch squares and stacked them on a custom mount to develop a 3D image. I reached for it. “Hey bud,” I said, lifting it to show him. “Do you remember when Ma made this?”

Liro turned, his brow scrunched in a comically intense glare, but it softened when he saw the device. He shook his head. “Have mercy, she must have tried a hundred different ways to cut them. She probably went through a dozen perfectly good panes, cracking them or severing the carbon fibers or whatever. Every time she’d got a new one, she’d run outside to the shop—you remember how the buckles on her boots would jingle when she ran? After a couple hours, the whole neighborhood would hear her frustration. What was is she always said? ‘Praise and piss!

“When she finally got that figured out, she stayed up all night working on the mount. She walked in on us eating breakfast all triumphant, the metallic stink of solder all over her.” I offered it to him with a nudge. A hand snaked out from under his blanket. He twisted it with a puzzled look, and I pointed to the power button. After a moment, it burst to life, an image of a family.

Ma’s layered prototype built a sculpture of light beyond what any single vis pane could display. It featured four figures, a mother and father, and two siblings that could be brothers, in an animation where each would hug the family before shifting to the next wrapping their arms around the others. Three of the four figures were light earthen tones, bright but organic. The bigger sibling was the outlier, and it shone an intense neon pink. “Never did get it quite right,” I said. “Something was misfiring in that third pane, and she never figured it out.” I chuckled. “Her face was something else though. Seeing it turn on and be so close. All she could do was put it down and sit on the floor. After a bit she decided to let us skip school and take us to watch A Crow’s Folly, and then to the candy store on Grand Avenue. She let us fill up the full-size bag that day. I got so sick that night.” I chuckled.

I smiled at Liro as he studied the contraption. “I still think it’s great. If it was perfect, it wouldn’t have those memories, right?”

Liro didn’t answer me. Eventually he offered it back and rolled away again.

I squeezed his shoulder. “I know you miss them, buddy.”

“I don’t,” he said. The words rang across the room like a gunshot in a mausoleum.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t bloody remember,” he whispered, and my heart seized.

“How can you—you don’t remember the—I mean, the candy shop?”

Liro shook his head, and his breath came in shudders. Eventually the trembling in his lip faded. “Sometimes I dream about them, but when I look at their faces, I just see yours.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.

The bell might as well have shaken the house, but I hesitated before answering. If I left it, would she take the hint? Liro limped up the hall, and it was just us for a moment, in a space that brimmed with our hurt and our sweat, and the forgotten laughter of a once whole family. It was a refuge, even as invaded with industrial shelving and stacked boxes as it was. Those walls were still ours, still made by our lives and our history. The hallway breathed with our tears and our shouts, with the bitterness of nightly medicine and the sweetness of chocolate after dinner. No one could take that away from us but us.

Liro’s brow pinched at me with unspoken questions. I didn’t have any answers, but there was no use in waiting. I opened the door to find a mountain of a woman looking down the severe line of a long, hooked nose. She pinched her deep-set eyes so tightly that I could barely see them at all behind the shadows. She cleared her throat and lifted her wrist pane. “Callie Hicamp?”

I grimaced. “Actually, that’s our mom. She was the title holder on the property when I opened the account with Warehoming, but she—I’ve updated it since then. I’m the title holder now. Twon Hicamp.”

She grunted and tapped at the pane on her wrist. “I’ll need to get that reviewed,” she said, “But I don’t think that’s any reason to delay the inspection today. Do you know why I’m here?”

“Yeah, we had a flood about a week ago, and lost some inventory.”

She lifted an eyebrow. “That’s right. My name is Inspector Tudget. You made a claim on five thousand and eighty-four dollars of inventory and the loss department flagged that as excessive. I’m here to evaluate your facility and its capacity to safely handle and process items that are shipped by Warehoming Inc.’s eCommerce partners. Is that what you were expecting?”

“I mean, yeah.”

“Based on the results of my evaluations, you may lose or gain certifications for different classes of inventory as a freelance storage vendor with Warehoming Supply Services Inc. If you lose any certifications, you will be given ninety business days to bring your facility up to code and reestablish your certification without interruption of inventory delivery. During that time your margins are suspended for higher-class inventory until the codes are met. Is that acceptable?”

I shrugged. “Acceptable—wait, do I have a choice?”

Her lips pinched so that all the color drained from them. “Can I enter your facility to begin the inspection?”

I took a long breath and stepped aside to let her through. She reached into her coat—somehow a brighter summer-sky blue than the summer sky just beyond her shoulders—and pulled out a measuring tape. With movements as precise as Bruce Lee, she extended it, measured the width and length of the doorway, and slammed it back shut. Almost before I registered what she’d even done, she was tapping in notes on her wrist pane. Finally, she stepped in and proceeded briskly down the hall, her light black flats clipping against the hardwood floor with each step. She didn’t remove her coat—in July.

She stopped next to Liro. He smiled up at her, and she did not return it. “Who is this?”

“My little brother,” I said, clearing my throat. “He’s at school on weekdays.”

“Hmm,” she said, lifting her wrist pane. “Well, run along then, child.” She jabbed new notes and then lifted a thin eyebrow at me. She didn’t say anything. We made our way through the house, room by room. “How long has this crack been here?” She would ask. “Do these lights always flicker when you turn them on?” I answered every question in as few words as possible. She wasn’t my friend, and she didn’t care what happened to Liro.

Eventually we made our way to the living room. The back of my neck crawled as she followed me in. The shelving had been replaced and the boxes re-stacked in neat lines. The windows were closed, and fresh caulking coated the frames with thick white lines. Of course, the water damage hadn’t been caused by a leak, but we wanted her to think it had been and that we’d addressed it.

“This is where the inventory was lost?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” I said with a grunt.

She stepped into the room scrunched her nose as soon as she crossed the threshold. The musk of stagnant water pervaded the room. I’d spent hours drying the carpet and spraying bottles of deodorizers, but Mr. Clean himself couldn’t eliminate that smell with the time and resources we had.

She approached the windows and inspected each. “I assume these are the windows that leaked.”

I suppressed my trepidation and nodded. “That’s right.”

“Well, you’ve cleaned up the caulking very nice. It looks like you’ve patched up this leak very thoroughly.”

“Yes, we did.”

She nodded at me and began tapping at her wrist pane.

Could it be so easy? The fee for the inventory was steep, but we could recover from that. I didn’t even begrudge the time I spent cleaning everything else up. Maybe God granted us a gift of mercy for working so hard the past few days. I cleared my throat. “So, we’re good to go then?”

She froze, and the sides of her mouth teased upward in a thin smile. “Well, Mr. Hicamp. We’ll need you to install drapes rated for ninety percent blackout.”

“Inspector Tudget, you’re asking us to block the windows?”

“Not asking,” she said, squinting at her wrist pane. “Many perishables are susceptible to bacterium that thrive in sunlight. Drapes that block ninety percent is the fastest way to meet code, but I’d actually recommend boarding the windows when you can. Many of our vendors complain of the drapes getting caught in wheels of dollies.”

I rocked back on my heels. The panes out back flickered with the lines that my parents had painted. A beacon of their legacy. The image portrayed was frayed and fractured, but I could practically see Ma and Pa, bent over the panes next to each other, their digipens swirling in a dance choreographed only by love and familiarity. The backyard wasn’t going anywhere, but when would I get time to go out there to relax?

Inspector Tudget bent and touched the carpet. The room looked cleaner than it had in months, smell withstanding. The stacks of boxes lined the walls in perfect order, and the lines were separated by the exact minimum space apart to allow someone to get between them. Even without clear signage that we couldn’t afford, the stacks occupied categories that were easy to identify due to the branding of the boxes and individually packaged goods. The computer parts featured bright colors of rays or energy, and the food products featured images of rising suns, rolling hills, or smiling livestock. She rubbed her fingers together before standing again.

“The carpet will need to go.”

My stomach churned and silence stretched between us so that only the barks of suburban dogs playing at protection against delivery drivers filled the room. I steeled myself and tilted my head. “We’d been told previously that carpet was allowed for freelance vendors. That’s why we chose Warehoming over Home Storage and Delivery.”

“That is true, of course,” she said. “Just not for vendors that are certified for computer peripherals. Even discharges that are imperceptible to humans can render unrecoverable damage to a number of electronic and computational components. Dollies rolling on carpet can generate enough static electricity to jump through packaging.”

“The help line didn’t mention additional requirements when we tenured into class three inventory.”

“They don’t mention it in the body of the email; they just send it as an attachment. Warehoming Supply Service Inc. Class Three Vendor Terms and Conditions, it’s on page thirty-two.”

“Thirty-two,” I sputtered. “I can take out the carpet, but it’s been in here since the house was built. I don’t know if it will—”

“Mr. Hicamp, I don’t actually care if you do or not. I’m just saying if you don’t, you’ll lose your certifications for computer peripherals. You have ninety days to decide. Until then, the margins on those products still in your care will be lowered to class one rates.”

“Those are the highest payout items we store.”

“Not until the carpet is gone, so I’d think long and hard about how much it means to you.”

This house and the class three certifications were the only things that carried my parents’ memory. Did this inspector know anything about family? Didn’t she see that we were trying to make something work where Liro could live with signs of our parents’ love? The certs she threatened paid for Liro’s medications every month.

I cleared my throat. “I am Warehoming’s only class three vendor in this neighborhood. If you revoke our certifications, the only people who would benefit would be HSD.”

She shrugged. “Our data shows that consumer expectations for delivery timeliness actually diminish with the value of the product. They prefer safety of the product over speed of delivery.” She scuffed her light shoe over the carpet. “Safety,” she repeated.

I ground my teeth. That carpet was more than just the padding and the threads knotted together. That carpet kept our parents closer to Liro. It kept them closer to both of us. Without a second thought she would tear that from him. How was I supposed to decide between food and a carpet with sentimental value? She must know that her assignments were homes. She must also know that a home was more than the wood and the nails that held it together. She didn’t care.

I followed her through the rest of the house in a trailing shuffle. “This outlet cover will need to be replaced,” she said. “You can’t stack boxes in front of an HVAC intake.” And the finger jabbing. People used their wrist panes silently, but her fingers were gunshots on the screen. Blatatat! Each one blasted away physical embodiments of our family’s human experience. Each one chipped away at what I’d thought was my last hope for the future. A comfortable home with memories of love to raise Liro? Not without corporatism lining every wall. Paying mortgage or utilities on time? Only if deliveries were perfect. Enough money to afford Liro’s medication, to let him wake up without pain? Only as long as I could sustain working from sunrise to sunset and deliveries with after-hour rates in between.

We would become automatons without history or hope, if we wanted to afford food or Liro’s medications. We would devolve to sacks of bone and meat that could never pause from their grind to survive by the barest of standards.

The doorbell sounded for a delivery pickup. Liro’s voice drifted from the other side of the house. “I got it!” His footsteps thumped in his uneven gait to the door. I tried to catch a whisper of his voice, happy and joking, but the thunderclap jabbing of her fingers on her wrist pane interrupted his muffled conversation with the driver.

The door thumped shut and moments later my own wrist pane pinged with a five-star review. “This shelving isn’t mounted to the wall,” Tudget said, and we continued. I trailed farther behind. She led me to the guest room while my head roared. Pressure grew in my throat. This inspector marched around stealing comfort that Liro’s medication could buy, stealing sleep from his nights, and he was doing what he needed to do. He was five star exceeding expectations.

The hitched rhythm of his footsteps approached. He came up behind me and his hand found mine. I turned to him, but I couldn’t speak, not without choking on the sob in my throat. Fresh tears stung at my eyes, and my breathing hissed through my teeth.

It wouldn’t work anymore. I couldn’t fix all of this in time. We’d have to go behind on the mortgage. We were already two months behind on the water, and they’d shut us off if we missed another.

Liro tugged at me. “Are you okay?”

I clenched my eyes shut. Damn that tear for slipping down my cheek. The pieces fracturing. I was an untempered pane against the pressure of a wrecking ball, but I just needed a moment. I looked to the inspector. “Can you give us a second?”

“Of course,” she said. “You don’t mind if I continue without you?”

I didn’t answer. I just led Liro out of the guest room as she tested the dip with her toe. Liro and I continued around a corner to the kitchen.

“Twon?” Liro’s voice wavered. “What’s wrong, cabrón?”

I lifted a hand in the vague direction of the inspector. “She is exacting,” I hissed. Liro blinked at me, but he did not respond. How could I explain to him that we were going to lose it all? How could I tell him that we weren’t going to be able to afford his medications? That she was going to take everything that Ma and Pa had left us?

I pointed to the sitting room. “She’s making us take out the carpet.” The words didn’t make sense. They didn’t answer his question, but they were all I had. They encapsulated everything.

Liro perked up at that. “Oh? That smell makes me so nauseous. That will be nice. I bet we could do that this week, just you and me.”

I sputtered at him. “But Liro, our parents—That carpet—they used to—”

He looked at me quizzically.

I tilted my head. “The movies?”

Liro squinted. “What does our carpet have to do with a movie?”

I blinked. He was too young.

Day in and day out, we scratched and clawed and clambered to make enough to get by. We endured meals of rice and whatever steamed veggies were on sale, and we slept sweating beneath a creaking fan. That was all this house held for him. I’d been saving fragmented echoes of our parents that whispered between the walls, but he couldn’t hear them. The scuff marks from Ma’s boots at the entryway didn’t offer him a warm welcome when he came in through the front door. The light smell of the fabric softener that dad preferred didn’t fill his lungs with joy. I took a long breath to steady myself. “Liro,” I said tentatively, “what’s your favorite part of this house?”

“The sitting room,” he said, without hesitation.


“It holds the most inventory.”

I lowered my gaze and let the words settle into the walls around us. And reshape them. The house was hallowed to me, with memories in every fiber of wood and every flake of chipped paint. It was hollow to him, just a tool to survive until we could afford something better.

We never would afford better, though. Not like this. Especially after Inspector Tudget revoked our certifications. What use were all the—all my good memories if we made no new ones together?

I straightened and reached out a hand to Liro. He took it, his little brow furrowed with questions. I offered him a reassuring smile and led him into the final bedroom. Inspector Tudget had made her way through the stacks of inventory, and her head poked out over the shelving in the back corner where Liro and I slept. The jabbing of her pane reached through the spaces between the shelves.

When we came around the last corner, I found her glaring at Ma’s prototype. I cleared my throat and she whipped around to face us, sputtering. “This absolutely has to go,” she said, pointing to the vis pane sculpture. “In all my years, I don’t recall ever seeing such a bold fire hazard. Look at all those exposed wires. I’m just flabbergasted.”

“It will come with us,” I said.

“No, no. It cannot stay with you. It must be removed. Today.”

“I said it’s coming with us, not staying here. Ma’am, please provide papers for our release from Warehoming’s freelance storage vendor program.”

She stepped back and straightened. “Excuse me?”

I rolled my eyes and turned to Liro. “Can you give Uncle Terry a call? Ask him if he can come down to pick us up.” Liro scampered off.

“Don’t do anything rash now,” the inspector said.

“Thought you could squeeze some extra profit for a few months and go back to the way things were? Now realizing all the other storage vendors in five miles are months out from tenuring into class three?”

“Mr. Hicamp, do not rush to conclusions. We can compromise on some of the certification suspensions while you get everything back to code.”

Liro’s voice drifted in from the hallway. “Uncle Terry. It’s good to hear from you too. Yeah. Well, I haven’t in a while and really—Actually, sorry. Twon asked me to see if you could come by and pick us up? I think so. Twon just asked me, so I called.”

“It’s not about certifications,” I said to Inspector Tudget, picking up Ma’s prototype. “From now on I take the memories with me.”

“Memories—” She waved away my comment. “Mr. Hicamp, we can still have a very productive—”

“You can let go of this place now,” I said to her, and her shoulders dropped.

Liro recited our address to Uncle Terry from outside the room, and a grin crept over my face. Selling the house would provide enough money to afford his medication for years. Uncle Terry gave us an offer once, but I’d misappraised it. We’d have a home with actual furniture, and meals around a table with a family. Our parents had given us so much, but that didn’t mean I needed to hold Liro hostage with those memories.

“It’s fine,” I said, reassuring myself as much as her. “We can let go too.”

Joseph is a father, husband and writer currently living in Lenexa, Kansas. There, he and his wife do their best to raise a son to be kinder than the world around him. By day, he spends time planning and executing social media and other digital marketing campaigns.

He has been a dreamer, reader and writer for most of his life and most of his literary influences can be found on a bookstore’s science fiction and fantasy shelves.

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